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23 June 2005 Edition

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Pulp pap

BY John Corcoran

Book Review

Dead Men Talking

By Nicholas Davies

Mainstream Publishing

£7.99

There's an old adage that says "you can never tell a book by its cover", and since the subtitle to this publication is "Collusion, Cover-Up and Murder in Northern Ireland's Dirty War", a casual browser may be tempted to purchase this book on the basis of what appears to be revelatory accounts of the dirty tricks which abounded between the RUC, the FRU and the British Army.

Instead, this cheaply produced little collection of journalism appears to be nothing more than a thinly veiled rehash of the numerous already well established apologia for the actions of the British dirty tricks brigade in the Six Counties. There is little attempt to deny the existence of collusion; that particular cat is so out well of the bag, it's said to be soon negotiating a contract to appear in Whiskas ads! No, the underlying tenor of this tale is that albeit regrettable, collusion, dirty tricks etc, was a job that needed doing, and do you know what? It was done quite well!

Just a couple of extracts give the reader the gist of the mindset which Davies displays throughout this second-rate exercise in poorly written hackery. Referring to the creation of the IRA's cell structure, Davies opines:

"Such problems were not going to deter a woman with Margaret Thatcher's iron will and nor did the infamous October 1984 attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton... By the time of the Brighton bombing ordinary people throughout England, Wales, and Scotland had come to the realisation that the Provisional IRA were not do-gooders demanding civil rights for the Catholic minority... their political goal was the coercion of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland who demonstrated their wish to remain part of the United Kingdom."

Poor old Nick Davies, he can hardly help himself as he waxes nostalgically about the "gloves off" approach adopted by Thatcher. He recollects with only faintly disguised happiness the days when the "Iron Lady" saw to the establishment of the FRU, made sure they were given "good salaries as well as generous expense accounts" not forgetting "new and better cars". At times, this drivel reads like a British redtop title cranking up patriotic tensions before the England soccer team embarks upon another World Cup campaign. "Yeah! This time it's going to be different!"

Unfortunately for Davies, he has to account for the fact that despite the "Iron Lady", "the better cars", the "expense accounts", and all the other largely unmentioned devilish paraphernalia utilised to apply a military solution to a political problem, it didn't work. The IRA was not "crushed". The reason for this disappointing outcome? Davies' answer comes in this flat, but revealing sentence:

"Since Thatcher was ousted by her Cabinet ministers, both her successors, John Major and Tony Blair, have sought a path to peace and British military intelligence gathering has become almost quiescent."

Now that you have picked yourself up from the floor, we shall proceed.

According to the sleeve blurb: "In the past ten years, Nicholas Davies has written some 24 books", impressively prolific by any ones standards. Out of sheer curiosity, (ok, mischief!) it seemed necessary to investigate some other aspects of Nick's impressive opus - well this author can certainly turn his hands to almost anything that's asked of him.

Readers may wish to add some more Nick Davies publications to their book collection. There's the royal themed Elizabeth: Behind Closed Doors, the princely tome William; The Rebel Prince and its companion text, William; King for the 21st Century. In some of these, to be fair, he is assisted by other hard working authors.

We should not forget to give due credit to three people Nick makes a point of thanking in his preface, "one who worked for British Military Intelligence, another who worked for many years with the RUC's Special Branch, and a third who spent a number of years in Northern Ireland working with MI5". Some of these boys, dedicated souls that they are, must spend their every living hour pouring contents into any old empty vessel who happens to be in the wordsmith's trade.

Before reading this, Nick Davies' book was destined for the Irish History section of my imaginary palatial library. Now, however, its likely destination is that cardboard box found in most homes, full of trash westerns, fad diet books, Christmas cracker gifts, and those Spanish castanets you long ago brought home from Malaga.

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